Richard could have gotten into serious trouble, scrutinized as “subversive," "Red," or “pinko,” for all the books he reads during the course of my novel (except Philbrick’s I Led 3 Lives and Casino Royale). That would include several now considered part of English Literature canon: The Catcher in the Rye, Fahrenheit 451, Invisible Man, and Go tell it on the Mountain (each published during my novel’s timeframe), as well as John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony or Of Mice and Men, and Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible. Richard and Vlad also read Call of the Wild and The Maltese Falcon, both adapted into much-loved movies.
And, of course, Robin Hood—which an Indiana textbook commissioner urged schools across the nation to ban in 1953 because it advocated “robbing the rich” and “smearing law and order.”
Just as McCarthy’s arrogant attack of a decorated WWII general—(who was good friends with President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of Allied Forces during the war)—was the senator’s fatal mistake in terms of public opinion, so was the censors targeting the Merry Men. Students at Indiana University collected six bags of chicken feathers from local farms, dyed them green to match Robin’s forest camouflage, and passed them out in protest to their fellow IU students. Despite public rebuke and FBI harassment, the movement spread to university campuses like Harvard and UCLA. It was the beginning of college student activism that would prove such a powerful force for civil rights and anti-Vietnam protests.
For more on the Green Feather Movement:
Published in 1953 at the height of book-censorship in this country, Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel presents a future world in which books are banned and burned by “firemen” to stop their spreading ideas that could undo the repressive government.
The Catcher in the Rye
Published initially for adults, J. D. Salinger’s story of Holden Caulfield quickly became a kind of battle-cry book for teenagers because of the authenticity of its first-person 16-year-old narrator, his angst, alienation, and often poetic sense of complete bafflement with adults and status-quo, “acceptable” society.
Go Tell It on the Mountain
A semi-autobiographical story of a teenage son of a Harlem Pentecostal Church preacher. Good Tell It on the Mountain has remained on countless 100 Best lists of 20th century literature since its appearance in 1953.
Of Mice and Men
The heartbreaking story of two migrant ranch workers during the Depression. It and Grapes of Wrath were routinely banned or burned as being “subversive,” i.e. spreading proletariat ideals and criticizing American capitalism and society by portraying the plight of laborers. Finally, in 1962, Steinbeck was awarded the Noble Prize for Literature "for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception."
Take a moment to read his brief, inspiring acceptance speech: https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1962/steinbeck-speech_en.html
Remember 1962 is the height of the Cold War and our terrifying standoff with the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Steinbeck aptly concludes by saying: “Having taken Godlike power, we must seek in ourselves for the responsibility and the wisdom we once prayed some deity might have. Man himself has become our greatest hazard and our only hope.”
The first in the James Bond series.
The Call of the Wild
A classic adventure, boy-and-his-dog story set in Canada during the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush. Much discussed then but almost forgotten today, is the fact Jack London was part of a radical literary group in San Francisco that advocated for workers, unions, and socialist programs.
A play about the Salem witch trials in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, The Crucible opened in 1953. Arthur Miller’s drama was also metaphor for McCarthyism’s mob mentality and persecution of innocent people because of their association with others suspected of wrong-doing or heretical thinking (political in the 1950s, religious in the 1690s.) The parallels were recognizable and unnerving enough to Red-Hunters that Miller was denied a travel visa to Belgium to see a premiere of his own work in that country ”under regulations denying passports to persons believed to be supporting the Communist movement, whether or not they are members of the Communist party.”
The Maltese Falcon
One of Dashiell Hammett’s most popular LA noir novels, starring private detective Sam Spade. The Maltese Falcon also became a favorite Humphrey Bogart film classic. Both Hammett and Bogart were harmed by McCarthyism.
Hammett served in WWI, driving ambulances, and then during the 1930s became politically active in the pro-union movement, joining the American communist party when it was still simply a progressive labor party, and becoming vice-chair of the Civil Rights Congress. After WWII and the USSR’s repression of satellite nations, such activism during the Depression was labeled Red. Hammet spent six months in prison on contempt charges for refusing to “name names” or to testify against friends accused of conspiracy. After his release, his Sam Spade radio series was cancelled and the IRS prosecuted him for failure to pay back taxes. McCarthy decried his books as subversive and called for their banning.
In 1947, the Hollywood Ten were called before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC). A number of well-known actors such as Bogart formed the Committee for the First Amendment, purchased space in newspapers like the New York Times to run a petition supporting the accused screenwriters, and flew to Washington to witness the Congressional hearings.
Many Hollywood film workers who signed that petition were later questioned by HUAC. When it became clear that a few of the screenwriters were indeed members of the American Communist party, Bogart—a WWII veteran and New Deal liberal Democrat horrified by Stalin’s growing power and human rights violations—was incensed. He wrote an article stating he had been duped and he was no communist. Fellow liberals publicly lashed out against Bogart, accusing him of selling out to save his career.
For more on the Hollywood Ten see: